Will Adopting the Palestinian Starting Point of the 1967 Borders Bring Peace?
Exhibit A: In June, 1999, shortly after Ehud Barak had defeated Benjamin Netanyahu to become Israel’s new prime minister, Charles Krauthammer wrote a column title, Clinton Should Have Targeted Arafat Instead. Krauthammer noted that Arafat was going around the world to lobby support for accepting UN General Assembly resolution 181 as a basis for any peace deal.
What is that? An obsolete, defunct resolution passed by the General Assembly (unlike 242 and 338, not by the Security Council, and thus not even binding) . . . in 1947! It partitioned British Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. At the time, every single Arab state and the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee totally rejected 181. In fact, they invaded the area given to the Jews with the express purpose of wiping it off the map.
They failed. And now 50 years later, the Palestinians are converts to 181.
What’s wrong with that? In the course of that ’48-’49 war, Israel fought back. The armistice lines of 1949 ending it created the current internationally recognized (pre-’67) Israel–an area larger than that outlined in 181. Hence Arafat’s 181 ploy. Under 181, Israel would have to give up not just the ’67 conquests (all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza) but large chunks of pre-’67 Israel proper in the Galilee and the Negev. Indeed, 181 would take not only East Jerusalem away from Israel, but West Jerusalem–entirely Jewish and always under Israeli control–as well.
Arafat had, as Krauthammer put it, “moved the goal posts.” Krauthammer pointed out further that the Clinton administration was silent about this deal killer.
Exhibit B: Nearly three years ago President Obama blindsided Netanyahu with a speech in which the President endorsed Israel’s 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations. Charles Krauthammer wrote at the time:
Nor is this merely a theoretical proposition. Three times the Palestinians have been offered exactly that formula, 1967 plus swaps – at Camp David 2000, Taba 2001 and the 2008 Olmert-Abbas negotiations. Every time, the Palestinians said no and walked away.
And that remains their position today: The 1967 lines. Period. Indeed, in September the Palestinians are going to the UN to get the world to ratify precisely that – a Palestinian state on the ’67 lines. No swaps.
Note how Obama has undermined Israel’s negotiating position. He is demanding that Israel go into peace talks having already forfeited its claim to the territory won in the ’67 war – its only bargaining chip. Remember: That ’67 line runs right through Jerusalem. Thus the starting point of negotiations would be that the Western Wall and even Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter are Palestinian – alien territory for which Israel must now bargain.
This time it was the United States moving the goal posts for the Palestinians. The New York Times reported that the speech marked a “subtle but significant shift” in American policy.
It’s also interesting to see how the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler treated the speech. Kessler acknowledged that the American position had “evolved.” Here’s how he portrayed the starting point:
From an Israeli perspective, the de facto borders that existed before 1967 were not really borders, but an unsatisfactory, indefensible and temporary arrangement that even Arabs had not accepted. So Israeli officials do not want to be bound by those lines in any talks.
From a Palestinian perspective, the pre-1967 division was a border between Israel and neighboring states and thus must be the starting point for negotiations involving land swaps. This way, they believe, the size of a future Palestinian state would end up to be — to the square foot — the exact size of the non-Israeli territories before the 1967 conflict. Palestinians would argue that even this is a major concession, since they believe all of the current state of Israel should belong to the Palestinians.
Notice what the “Israeli perspective” is. Kessler’s taking what everyone believed after the Six Day War (and he even acknowledges this later) in the article and making it strictly Israel’s position. Furthermore he describes the Palestinian position in great detail crediting them with a “major concession” for even allowing Israel to exist.
In contrast, (though he wasn’t officially wearing his “fact checker” hat at the time) when Kessler earlier dealt with “settlements,” he treated a one time opinion by State Department bureaucrat as law.
Thirty years ago, the State Department legal adviser issued an opinion in response to an inquiry from Congress: The establishment of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories “is inconsistent with international law.”
The opinion cited Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Israel has insisted that the Geneva Convention does not apply to settlers and broadly contests assertions of the settlements’ illegality.
Despite the passage of time, the legal opinion, issued during the Carter administration, has never been revoked or revised. President Ronald Reagan said he disagreed with it — he called the settlements “not illegal” — but his State Department did not seek to issue a new opinion.
Kessler treats the 1979 opinion by Herbert Hansel as authoritative even though Morris Abram, who helped draft the Fourth Geneva Protocol stated that the intent was strictly to prevent the sort of brutal policies that the Nazis carried out.
I bring Kessler an example of a mindset in the media and the diplomatic corps which treats most Palestinian claims as valid and most Israeli claims as something only Israel believes.
Exhibit C: Jackson Diehl from last week:
Israelis and Palestinians have signed on to U.S.-sponsored frameworks before, most recently the “road map” of George W. Bush. But Kerry’s aim is to produce one that would cover more substance. Most likely it would include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the stationing of Israeli troops near the Jordanian border and language that excludes a mass “return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel. In exchange, Netanyahu would be expected to swallow the principles that the territory of Palestine would be based on Israel’s 1967 borders and that its capital would be in Jerusalem.
Again in exchange for “givens” – acknowledging Israel as a Jewish state shouldn’t be negotiable, but the Palestinians never accepted it, the right of return would end Israel as a Jewish state and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the Philadelphi corridor demonstrated the need for Israel to remain in the Jordan valley – Israel is expected to agree the Palestinians terms.
If accepting the Palestinian view of the 1967 borders would ensure that Israel could make peace with the Palestinian Authority (PA) that might be understandable. But in a recent paper, No End to Palestinian Claims: How Israel and the Palestinians View Borders, Pinchas Inbari shows that it is uncertain that such a concession would impel the Palestinians to make a deal. While Inbari doesn’t discount the possibility “there could be surprisingly favorable developments,” he still takes a cautionary approach based on the publicly expressed positions of the PA. In particular, Inbari writes:
The question, though, is whether the ratification of the 1967 border would entail the end of the dispute. Hopefully, the answer would be yes, with the United States putting its full weight behind the finality of the agreement.20 Yet we cannot ignore certain Palestinian positions which, if they do not change, are likely to generate crises even after an agreement is reached. For example, in an article posted prominently on Fatah’s website, the author discussed – uncharacteristically – the issue of the Jewish refugees. Zionism, according to this author, deliberately sowed terror in Iraq so as to frighten the Jews there and, eventually, settle them in Palestinian areas that were emptied of their residents, who then became refugees. Thus, the right of return is actually the right to return to lands that the United Nations allocated to the Arab state in the partition plan.21
What this means is that, from the Palestinians’ standpoint, the negotiations being held today are about the results of the 1967 war. The Palestinian state to be established along the 1967 lines is not intended to absorb the refugees from the 1948 lands; their proper place will be within the partition-plan borders. After “closing the file” on the 1967 borders, then, the “refugee file” will be opened, and the Palestinians will demand their return to the Arab state postulated by the partition plan. In other words, the real, intended border is not one along the 1967 lines, but the one of 1947.
The Palestinian peace effort so far has been a combination of failing to abide by previous agreements (Arafat committed to stopping incitement against Israel, a phenomenon that continues until today); impose new terms on Israel (prisoner releases were meant to apply only to non-violent prisoners and was a confidence building measure not a requirement); and ensure that grievances remain (claiming that Israel “occupies” their territory when over 90% of Palestinians have lived under the PA since the end of 1995.) The records suggests that accepting the Palestinian demand for a return to the 1949 armistice lines won’t bring Israel any closer peace. The Palestinians are looking for concesions, not an agreement.